Reduced sentencing for first-degree murder passed the Tennessee Senate on Thursday. The bill as adopted by the Senate would allow life imprisonment sentences for first-degree murder to obtain release eligibility after serving 60 percent of 60 years less sentence credits earned, or 36 years which can be reduced to 25 years with sentencing credits. Although parole would be an option at that point, it wouldn’t be guaranteed. The two other options for first-degree murder sentencing – the death penalty or life without possibility of parole – would remain unchanged under the bill.
A few types of criminals wouldn’t benefit from the proposed bill. Those serving life imprisonment without parole for aggravated rape of a child. Originally the bill excluded those who committed first-degree murder of a child, but an amendment to the bill dropped that provision. State Senator Bo Watson (R-Hixon) said that these changes weren’t “substantive” during the floor vote.
The bill received bipartisan support, with only four senators voting against it and one abstaining their vote. State Senators Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol), Dawn White (R-Murfreesboro), and Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) voted no – State Senator Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) abstained his vote.
State Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) sponsored the bill. She explained that Tennessee is now the only state currently maintaining the Clinton-era “Biden Crime Bill” sentencing structure of 1995 implemented by then-Senator, now President Joe Biden. Mississippi dropped their Biden Crime Bill structure last month.
As a result of the Biden Crime Bill, Tennessee eliminated their structure of life with parole possibility at 25 years served. Bowling claimed that this change doubled sentencing, because it required offenders serve 51 years before implementing sentence reduction credits. She explained that her bill would simply strike down law based on the Biden Crime Bill and return Tennessee to the 1989 Criminal Sentencing Reform Act.
She added that other states followed Tennessee’s lead because of federal funds that offset the increased incarceration costs. Bowling explained that the funding ceased after a decade, and the increased incarceration has cost Tennessee greatly. She pointed out that increased incarceration rates hasn’t reduced criminal activity.
“There was no statistical change [in the reduction of violent crimes],” said Bowling.
State Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield) explained why he supported this bill: providing hope for criminals. He compared those facing life imprisonment for murder to the trials faced by the sinless Biblical figure, Job.
Roberts said that individuals can’t live “as God intended [them]” without hope, and that incarcerating individuals for life does just that.
Fiscal impact analyses projected an overall decrease in state expenditures averaging nearly $2.5 million in savings. For the first fiscal year, the incarceration savings would total a little over $1.2 million.
The bill now awaits assignment in the Criminal Justice Subcommittee.
– – –